We all have a strong, innate connection with the earth and its natural rhythms. Take time with your family to honor and reflect on these natural patterns that are so deeply a part of who we are. Celebrating the Winter Solstice can be a welcome retreat from the stress of this difficult year; a time of connection and nourishment in these days of isolation; a shared pause to reflect inward and focus on coming out of the darkness, as we welcome the light back into the world. Here are some simple ideas for celebrating the Winter Solstice with your family.
What is the Winter Solstice?
In 2020, the Winter Solstice is December 21st. The Winter Solstice is around this same time each year, give or take a day. We can think of the Winter Solstice as the Darkest Night, or the Shortest Day. All days have 24 hours, of course, but on the Winter Solstice day, the sun shines for the shortest amount of time and we experience the longest amount of darkness in one day for the whole year. Each day after Winter Solstice, there will be just a teeny bit more daylight, until we reach the Summer Solstice – the Brightest Day, and Shortest Night. In cultures originating in Northern Europe, this time is also called Yule.
Listen to the audio of these wonderful Winter Solstice stories, or look for them at your local library or bookstore.
The Shortest Day, by Wendy Pfeffer, Illustrated by Jesse Reisch.
Using simple, accessible language, this book explains the science of solstices and seasonal change on Earth and describes the ways human cultures throughout time have marked and celebrated Winter Solstice.
The Shortest Day
The Longest Night, by Marion Dane Bauer, Illustrated by Ted Lewin.
This beautifully illustrated poem tells the story of a group of animals in the cold and dark winter, each believing their special strengths will bring back the sleeping sun.
The Longest Night
Explore the Mystery and Wonder of Darkness
Venture out into the night! With very young children, you might bundle up in coats or blankets and simply step outside your door. With older children, you can take a walk in your neighborhood or a nearby park or natural area. Bring flashlights or headlamps.
Without turning on your lights, use your senses to take in the sky, the air, your neighborhood and your home on this special night – What do you see, hear, smell, taste, feel? Think about what this place is like in the daytime – what is the same, and what is different at night? Who else has been here? Do you see other people, or animals? Footprints?
Then turn on your lights, and notice how familiar places and things seem different or the same highlighted by the beam of your lights. Wish the night well and be mindful and glad for your place in it. “Goodnight Moon and Stars! Welcome back, Sun!”
Dinner in the Dark
Gather candles and matches. Once dinner is ready to eat, turn off all the lights. Gather as a family in the darkness and enjoy a few moments of calm and stillness in the dark. Then, welcome the light back into the world by lighting candles and enjoying your meal by candlelight! You can do the same with electronic candles, or small holiday lights in your home.
Each night as you move closer to the Winter Solstice, observe the night sky. Tilt your head back and simply look up, or break out the telescope if you have one! Notice the star patterns you see. This year on December 21st, the planets Jupiter and Saturn will appear to nearly touch each other, looking like a bright star! While Jupiter and Saturn are actually very far apart, the way we view them from Earth will make it appear that the two planets are edging closer and closer together each night until the Solstice. This event is called a conjunction, and a conjunction like this one hasn’t happened in 800 years! Learn more HERE
Celebrate with Nature
Celebrate plants and wildlife by decorating a living tree or bush outdoors with natural things that birds, squirrels, and insects might enjoy. Try threading popcorn or cranberries on strings to make garland, or hanging dried orange slices and cinnamon sticks to make wonderful natural ornaments!
Traditionally, the Yule Log was the start of a festive bonfire, where the noise and excitement of celebration was said to wake up the sleeping sun to invite the spring. To celebrate this tradition at home, choose a nice big log, sprinkle it with fragrant herbs to awaken your senses, and burn it in your fireplace. If you are careful not to let the log burn away completely, you can give bits of the leftover wood to neighbors to start fires of their own the next day.
Bring the Outside In
Bring as much greenery into your home as you can to remind yourself that life goes on even in the dark and cold.
Food, Drink, and Crafts
In Yule traditions, Wassail is a spiced cider drink. Wassailing is the tradition of carrying this festive drink door to door in a neighborhood, sharing the drink, singing together, and sharing good wishes. You might recognize this as the origin of the familiar Christmas caroling tradition! Make your own wassail to enjoy at home by heating these ingredients together and serving warm:
- 1 gallon apple juice
- 2 quarts cranberry juice
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice
- 2 oranges, sliced
- 2 teaspoons whole cloves
- 4 cinnamon sticks
Play With Your Food
Use cookie cutters or stencils to add snowflake or sun shapes to your food on the Winter Solstice day to remind you of the changing season and the return of the sunlight! Cut a shape out of the top slice of a sandwich to let a bright filling peek through, draw shapes onto a skillet with pancake batter, or draw sun/snow shapes with chocolate syrup. Invite children to arrange nuts, chocolate chips, raisins, or other favorite small food bits into sun, snowflake or star shapes on their plates.
Winter Themed Jar Lanterns
Using diluted glue-water solution, or a product like Modge-Podge, decorate a glass jar with tissue paper shapes!
- Glass jar
- Tissue paper in various colors
- Glue and water OR Modge-Podge
- Votive candle or tea light
- Cut various colors of tissue paper into squares, suns, moons, or other shapes that remind you of the Solstice and the returning light.
- Brush jar all over with glue-water solution or Modge-Podge.
- Press desired shapes all over the jar
- Brush all over again with glue-water solution or Modge-Podge, making sure ever bit of paper is fully coated
- While the adhesive is still wet, sprinkly with glitter if desired!
- Allow to dry, then add your candle of choice
See more HERE
Winter Solstice Audio Guide
For a deeper ritual experience, we’ve put together an audio guide and some written instructions to help you celebrate the solstice on your own or with members of your household. Go HERE to get your guides!